Published by Davide Pappalardo on June 25, 2021
Today we interview CARTHAGE, a highly engaging project from Damian Bennett of Khost and Techno Animal‘s fame. Here he showcases a mutant sound moving between post-punk, metal, noise, new wave, and much more, as perfectly encapsulated in the last effort Midnight White reieased on Justin K. Broadrick‘s Avalanche Recordings. He talks with us about his style, influences and the history of the project.
First of all, thank you for this interview. CARTHAGE is an experimental project characterized by a very personal and mutant sound. From by the obscure cassette Anadiniakk to the downtempo CD 23.64PM and the droning album 9115, it has been lurking in the UK underground for years. What can you tell us about its story?
Hello, great to speak! carthage AKA CARTHAGE came about in very late 80s/cusp of the 90s, when I supported Henry Rollins live. I did it solo, with just a bass guitar and vocals, and really enjoyed the process. I’d played in bands for years but to do solo was really extraordinary.
Some years later in the 90s I was in the 3 piece slow band Gauge and I wanted to add another layer to the live sound, and so used subtle atmospheres done live on stage, via a small 4 track player. The first gig we did that was at the Hope & Anchor in London.
For the name, I wanted a name that had a real resonance to it, and Iiked ‘carthage’ as it sounded like ‘haulage’, like something you’d see on the side of a large truck. It felt it was a name that would look ‘stamped’ on something, completely immobile. It’s nothing to do with the physical place in Tunisia.
I was also really influenced by music that came from WARP – notably Disjecta – that had incredible static-y layers of sound. See pic. I had no idea about music software, and only had a small computer, so I just created what I could inspired by stuff like this, with multiple input from found sounds, bass and my voice.
I’ve always just evolved it within my capabilities, with one sole purpose: to play it live.
Your new release Midnight White is a new chapter in an ever evolving journey, aptly released on Justin K Broadrick’s label Avalanche Records. Listening to the album, we find fractured elements coming from drone, post-punk, thrash, and even new wave. A mutant sound challenging labels and preconceived notions, but at the same time not so alien for people following the scene from Birmingham. Would you like to further elaborate about its conception? What has influenced you?
Alongside my usual fractured electronic based stuff, I started writing the material first off with a view to immediately incorporate a real melancholic doom metal. The sort of music that, if it didn’t have background visuals playing, that such visuals/images would play in the mind of the audience, if that makes sense…. something ‘illustrative’ and landscape-y.
So ’Solitude Rains’ came from this, and was done just in time to be played live in the existing carthage set prior to lockdown.
I love the thought of long, doom-y pieces in general, and when I hear bands such as Sleep, Warning, Yob… I really want to do something similar in parts where the songs evolve and resonate loudly… even if some elements are super distant and quiet. Even if the super distant stuff is more prevalent than the loud stuff. I will do more of that.
But I wanted some sheer attack too. ‘Filthy Consumption’ is a direct attack on consumer-driven waste in the form of trash, landfill and emissions, to name a few. I don’t even touch on animal torture and slaughter. I’m talking about layers and layers of filth and a form of ‘slow evil’ that consumers cause every second of every day, in order that supermarket shelves remain full to the brim, full of brightly-branded products, much of which is refrigerated 24/7. Poison, and needless. This is reflected in the video
The track has layers of sound, all done in one take one morning in Manchester in 2020. The initial inspiration – the clean guitar at the start – is from a song by The Mark Of Cain called ‘You Let Me Down’. They are longstanding friends and live music colleagues and I wanted to pick up a spiritual sentiment from their world and carry it forward, and talk about it now. Their track is a track that is not standard music in my opinion: it comes from the same ‘foundry’ of certain music from Rollins Band, SWANS… music that isn’t normal rock music, but just happens to use the rock & roll elements of drums, bass, guitar. It has something else inside. If you see them live you’ll get it.
For some of the quieter tracks, it occurred to me earlier this year that it’s 40 years since I saw the ‘Faith’ tour by The Cure. It was the best gig I’ve ever seen – in my head I have the entire gig in full resolution, every detail including the film of Carnage Visors they showed before the set if anyone wants to ask me about the gig.
I guess I wanted to put something of that essence into ‘Midnight White’… as well as Robert’s approach to songwriting.
I am referring to the time of ’17 Seconds’, where suddenly things became slightly more ‘quiet’ and detached than maybe some may have expected from the earlier Cure. Robert and I used to correspond occasionally, around the time of ‘Faith’ and ‘Pornography’ and his words stick in my head. I wrote a lot of ‘Midnight White’ when it came to winter, and ideas were released, and the main thing is there was no real effort, which was weird. Stuff just wrote itself.
For harder guitar work, I am obsessed with a lot of music that could be called hardcore, post-hardcore or screamo or whatever, people like Ampere, Orchid, Unwound, Hum…. there was and is a massive amount of bands, and it continues as we speak with crazy great bands that fuse metal, grind, detuned music. Stuff like Pupil Slicer, Sectioned, Fawn Limbs, so many! Insane bands. and though carthage may not sound literally like that there are no barriers and I just consume it like drugs. I am also a huge, longterm fan of Will Haven and their really fractured, haunted world, big big style.
I also listen to the total 360 of D&B and have done for decades, with a strong connections to the scene. I love it all, including abstract offshoots of the scene, people like Dyl. Also the great ‘autonomic’ wave of the late 00s. Plus the real overt, brash, abstract stuff you will find Grooverider playing these days on late night Rinse FM.
You are part of Khost and were active in the seminal project Techno Animal with Broadrick and Kevin Martin, among other projects exploring doom industrial, post-rock and even free-jazz and club sounds. Different beasts, but somewhat related and formative for your more recent efforts. What about your approach to music and the way one of your tracks come to fruition?
Before, I mentioned a certain ‘foundry’ or mental space, a certain area, a precinct, a specific live environment, a state of mind… but either way when that environment is real and the gig is pure fire, that it’s a case of something else is going on. It’s not a normal ‘gig’ with simple drum kit, bass, guitar etc or ‘performance’… it’s a different thing that you are witnessing.
In beats it could be the same with someone like – over time – Jeff Mills, Calibre, Grooverider, dBridge, Fabio in the live situation, where it isn’t just a ‘DJ set’, it’s in a different realm, and words don’t do it justice; you are ‘in’ something… I always feel that I am in a deep grey hot featureless space. I have been in thousands of those over time.
Khost does that too, where we forget everything and don’t know about the stage anymore: it’s just this dense, deep, metallic space. That’s all.
For Techno Animal, Justin, Kevin and myself played live in Leeds some years back and it really evolved into such a dense atmosphere, it was crazy good, a driving mass of sound.
It’s the same with 16-17 and Cortex, when this unit is in full operation: it’s like an electrical substation surrounded by a high fence that feels hazardous to go near.
So I guess what I am saying is to be part of such mental spaces, such foundries… that is everything.
I just want to always try hard to ‘bolt on’ carthage to inside a venue, then unbolt it when the lights come up and get it into the van and go to the next gig. I just need the tracks that fit that installation.
Arclight is a cool track with a suspended, cinematic atmosphere. If I’m not mistaken, Daniela VK is the guest female voice which duets with the almost robotic and crooning male one. Noise distortions are not forfeit, but I felt it as a narrative moment in the album. What can you tell us about it and how it was born?
Both of us, Daniela VK and I basically stepped out into the night in that track. We are always creating, drawing up plans, visualising.
To co-conspire, to work out the routes, to look for a way to assess the boundaries, to asses and to possibly destroy them…. that track is simply the sounds of the process.
At night if you hear scrapes of trains, trucks, distant shouts, jagged noises outside… well, you can either be ‘literal’ and put some sounds like those on a record as ‘ambience’ – which is awesome – or you can define the music and lyrical equivalents of those sounds, and that is ‘Arclight’.
Cold Velocity is a sort of dark ballad, a track strongly informed by post-punk and wave topoi, but rendered as filtered by a downtempo and psychedelic mood. Do you remember the situation in which it was written and the state of mind?
A big part of ‘Midnight White’ is a love letter to 1981, and not being retrospective or backward-looking or sentimental. It was a year of music like Echo & The Bunnymen, the Banshees, Japan, Psych Furs, Severed Heads, Bauhaus, Durutti Column, ‘Sister Feelings Call’ by Simple Minds, The Birthday Party, Stray Cats… some of which I experienced first-hand and which resonates really deeply, same now as it was then.
For ‘Cold Velocity’ it was imagining Lol from The Cure and how he would play the beats and what would a song sound like. I started patchworking guitars, but the main part is a tone, a sample that comes in, it’s repeated at the end, that is the main part of the song. I just started putting down lyrics for it; I would write and write and sometimes there’d be no light in the room except from glow off my gear etc and I couldn’t see the the lyrics right but I wouldn’t change anything.
Maybe I would have thought of different lyrics over time but the light fading sort of just gave them an identity. I just left them and and sang what I thought they originally said. I have them written down somewhere.
There’s also a sound near end I can’t explain, a small guest in the room I think.
The state of mind: I just wanted to do the song and get it written as quick as possible. If someone up late one night connects to it it’d be great, I hope someone likes it and lets me know maybe.
Some of the material in the album comes from live sessions in Manchester prior to lockdown, while the rest was conceived during late night sessions. I understand this has greatly influenced the sound and themes of the album. What’s the nature of Midnight White? What does it want to communicate to the listener?
The title is ‘of clarity’ that happens in those hours – by the script – you should be in bed.
In part it’s a literal thing, like late night truck lights on the motorway, shift work under fluorescent light. You need light to work and to see. I mentioned that light was a factor for ‘Cold Velocity’. If it’s artificial light, I like it a lot. When the daylight comes up I sort of don’t like it as much, to put in perspective. Nothing to do with being ‘nocturnal’, it’s just that daylight means primarily loads of traffic on the roads, jets, and needless emissions doesn’t it?
Those hours, that late night vibe definitely informs the tone of the album, and there’s lots of small nuances and voices that come through, come through from the quiet hours.
Pre lockdown, a group of us performed at the Peer Hat in Manchester and it was a really special gig, even a bit nervy as everyone knew change was coming, and it seeped its way into the set. I did my set with material from ‘9115’, some older material, some ‘interim’ material from just a few years ago such as a track written for Daniel Buess called ‘Cryptic Dusk’… as well as ’Solitude Rains’ off ‘Midnight White. I included a pic from the night, taken by my friend Salford Electronics.
Thank you again for your time. Anything you would like to add for our readers?
I hope that people like ‘Midnight White’ and I hope to see them on the road in the not-too-distant future. Thank you for this interview.